**spoiler alert** this is a such an amazing book. i was a bit perplexed at the beginning, feeling culture-shocked (those scots are weird!), quite unab**spoiler alert** this is a such an amazing book. i was a bit perplexed at the beginning, feeling culture-shocked (those scots are weird!), quite unable to relate to the protagonist. the writing, too, felt too beautiful, if you know what i mean: too full of gorgeousness, too packed, too deep. but then i started feeling the terrible ache of the story, even though it's a story as remote from mine as a story could be (or is it?). o'hagan makes the hurt, the terrible longing, the doom of loss, so palpable, by the end i could barely stand it.
*** SPOILERS ***
father david is a gay man who grew up as a catholic boy and soon fell in love with the church, the rituals, the smells, the discipline, and the tenderness some of us find in the catholic life. he also, in his own way, fell in love with god. a scot who was brought up in england, he returns to scotland when he's assigned to a small parish scarred by xenophobia (if the english count as xenoi), disaffection, endemic loutishness, and, in the case of the young people, drugs and binge-drinking. unlike his parishioners, with whom he finds very difficult and not terribly attractive to interact, david is a deeply sophisticated man, in love with literature, the arts, vintage wine, good food, and beautiful things. he went to oxford and then, one supposes for his seminary, to italy, where one day he spent two hours in a museum rapt by the amazing beauty of bernini's david. at oxford, he was part of a small group of guys who fancied themselves the effete heirs of WWI heroes and spent their afternoons quizzing each other on proust without the least self-consciousness.
in his new parish, david does the best he can. he is mild and he is friendly. but the townies hate this englishman with his soft manners, and david finds refuge with his housekeeper, a beautifully portrayed woman who loves life's good things as much as david and enjoys semi-intellectual sparrings with her priest, and two youngsters, mark and lisa. there is no obvious, conscious rescue instinct in david's hanging out with the kids. they are bad kids who drink too much, vandalize things, are totally adrift and unmoored in their families, and use plenty of drugs. they like david and text him at all hours to ask him to go join them. david always does. when they do something bad he tells them that it's bad and doesn't join in -- in other words, he always remains the responsible adult, if not the priest -- but there is an irresistible pull that draws david to the kids, in particular young, charismatic, beautiful mark.
this is not a simplistic novel and there is no label, i feel, that would do it justice. but let's just say, for convenience, that it latches onto the theme of the church sex abuse scandal. david and mark spend a night at the rectory, drinking, smoking dope, and popping ecstasy pills, and then david gives mark a kiss that mark rejects, and that's it. when the housekeeper arrives she finds them stoned on the couch, holding hands, listening to music.
the scandal excites the town to a feverish pitch (mark tells his dad) and david is forced to flee to edinburgh.
i won't add anything. the conclusion is really moving. david's reckoning, his efforts at lining up the chess pieces so as to gain some sort of understanding of what distinguishes right from wrong are beautiful. i grew extremely fond of david. he's a guy i'd like to meet and, if he let me, befriend.
the book is a long, philosophical, devastating look at desire and aloneness. i loved david's profundity, his moral honesty, his courage, his dignity, his intelligence, his quietness (which his housekeeper entirely attributes to his englishness), his lack of desire to launch himself in strong pronouncements of any sort, his willingness to simply go along.
and then there's the landscape, so harsh, so alive. i couldn't live there, but i can totally see how, if that's where you were born, you couldn't live anywhere else....more
i read this a long time ago. though i remember it only dimly, i know that it changed my life, the way some books do. like The Catcher in the Rye. likei read this a long time ago. though i remember it only dimly, i know that it changed my life, the way some books do. like The Catcher in the Rye. like Almanac of the Dead. like If This Is a Man. like that book by czeslaw milosz in which he riffs on whitman, whose title i cannot remember/find to save my life, and which got dropped to the bottom of the atlantic ocean when i tried to ship my books across continents in a box that was way too slight to hold so much weight. there are good books somewhere between northern france and the statue of liberty for the fish to enjoy. beats plastic, petrol, and mercury, don't you think? if you know what milosz i'm talking about, drop me a note.
with life-changing books, sometimes it's a freak thing, sometimes there's no freakness involved at all.
i don't know who to recommend it to. maybe no one. i'm in a space now in which only fast pace and cool COOL language works for me. i read mysteries, even though i am an extremely poor consumer of mysteries. i've discovered there's some really great stuff in genre fiction. i thank mike for this, and linda.
this "review" has almost nothing to do with the book it is supposed to review, but maybe my friends will read it anyway and understand why i needed to write it....more